Stock photo of the Charter Oak

The White Oak

Hello dear readers, thanks for taking the time to relax to a story of a particularly great tree. Today we’ll be hearing from a white oak, the official tree of Connecticut. Before he shares his family’s story, I just wanted to thank you for caring enough about the trees to come here.

If you’ve been following American news, you’ve likely heard of the destruction of Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park. The US government has been partially shut down for weeks now as Trump demands funding for the border wall and the Dems continue to resist for economic and humanitarian reasons.

Because 800,000 people are out of work due to the shutdown, the parks are open free (yay for free access to these preserved lands) but also un- or understaffed and thus open to destruction (boo for people abusing them). Trees that take scores of years to mature and centuries to develop, trees that were historic and protected by the nation itself, have been cut, and for what?

So thank you for taking the time to honor trees here.

Today I stumbled across this ad for a BBC show on actress Judi Dench, who apparently has a passion for trees as well. It’s beautiful, her acres of cultivated and forested land and her love and interest in the trees’ stories. In the preview, she mentions an oak in particular.

Oaks are some of my favorite trees because of their sturdiness and because I grew up around so many; you can’t find them in every part of the US! The white oak we’ll hear from today is an especially dignified fellow with a legacy that he stakes his pride in. He also has an appreciation for the diversity of forest around him.

I hope his words will encourage you today! Enjoy!

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

 

Greetings, young one. I heard you call me stubborn as you walked by earlier, noticing my brown leaves still sticking although it is March.

While I prefer to be called regal as a descendant of the historic white oak that saved this state when it was still a colony, I will let it slide this time. It was our persistence, devotion to the cause, and willingness to sacrifice that made my family line historic, after all, and I suppose stubborn is simply a more callous way of phrasing those attributes.

If you are not too absorbed in your daily activities, please sit down for a bit. Do you enjoy history? We white oaks, or quercus albas as some might say, are proud of our legacy. Take some tea while I share.

Back in the 1600s, we had tension between a lot of groups, but my family was associated with the English Americans, and the actual English folk had some issues with them being here. The settlers, or colonists really, had managed to be granted a charter. They were happy, like you. Yes, I see your smile, the interest in your eyes. But they were not in the clear.

A new king rose to power in the east – technically England, but didn’t I sound like Tolkien for a moment? And England is east of here. Well, moving on.

King James II did not want us to have the power granted in the charter. There was a meeting between the two groups in Connecticut, and during it, the governing document went missing. You can read about it on the state’s website. That night, one of my ancestors had the honor of keeping the great charter. That grandmother, known as the Charter Oak, lived over 200 years but passed away before my birth.

I myself have been rooted in this North Haven soil for over a century. These stories were passed on to me from my ancestors. But I have seen my own good share of American history.

For example, after the travesty of slavery ended, I lived through an eerily similar Jim Crow era. I was here on this Northern ground for all of it and have observed what I can from this limited standpoint on Sackett Point Road.

The real demographic change in this area occurred during my younger years – the influx of Italian immigrants to this region, yes. I’m glad you know a bit about that social change for our state! It was a blessing to be sure. I witnessed that history being built before my eyes.

My beech and red oak neighbors, the evergreens yonder, they have been good friends to me throughout the years. They cannot claim the same heritage as I, but I appreciate their company nonetheless. Their families have their own unique stories. Mine is embedded, written, preserved in Connecticut history, as we white oaks are the state tree, and I take great pride in that.

Yet I assume you can see by my speaking with you short, loose-limbed creatures that I am not so haughty to think we white oaks are the greatest of all. No, we simply played our part in making this nation a better place.

I do not see much of it with you loose-limbed little ones in this area, but we trees celebrate our diversity and integration here in the Northeast. What do you think of this, young one?

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees in harmony

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees together

 

Are you off already? Thanks for sharing tea and listening to this rough but royal old fellow. I appreciate your company. Perhaps you will still call me stubborn, but I will hold myself tall till my dying day because I know who I am and where I have come from. I pray your family may know the same lasting honor as mine. Go in peace.

 

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The Beech Tree

The giggling girl and boy crept up to me as quietly as their childish mannerisms would allow, glancing all about to ensure that the deed they were about to commit in broad daylight would remain unseen. Then they carved their initials in me, a secret sign of their affections, commemorated forever a yard above my grassy roots.

~~~

I had the pleasure of knowing many children at that parsonage, from the families who lived there to those who attended church next door, and of course the neighbors. I had a fondness for the ones across the street, whom I could only will love upon from my place in the front yard. I knew they needed the love, though.

Like these young ones, I heard the late-night music of the next-door neighbors, saw their blazing campfires through the hedge late at night—the kids thought it frightening, but imagine me! I can’t move, and I’m made of wood! —and watched many a car use the church lot to turn around when they were misguided.

They were good times.

My leathery grey skin and pointed oval leaves basked in a good deal of sunlight and weathered quite a few thunderstorms as the children rode the rope swing literally to pieces, considered the engraving left by that young couple, and gazed up at my smooth branches trying to discern who I was.

The kids relished the autumn when they could rake up and jump in my fallen leaves. They felt accomplished to gather those mounds of feathery gold and joyful to disturb them into a flurry, a fluff, a frizzle, as one might say. I never quite understood the point, but it made me laugh, and their pride rubbed off on me, for I had given them the gift of those leaves—unlike the backyard oaks who were stingy and held on to their dull brown ones until March.

I was generous. I was a pillar. I wasn’t well known, per se, but I know they needed me. They needed me for play and for shade and for their intellect as they studied science. I helped them with all that as their front yard beech tree.

I’m here still, just waiting for more children to run unto this side of the yard again and entertain me with their antics. They’ll come to rely one me soon enough. Everyone needs a tree like me in order to engrave their legend.

The Three Tree

Second back from the front and about two yards to the left of the church house dwelled the Three Tree. A red oak of aimable personality, it had weathered many storms with a genuine grin and lived to see the joy of the children around it.

The church house, known as a parsonage to many, is what I called our split-level ranch, which the church on the property owned and in which it let us live as my dad pastored when we first moved to North Haven.

Our yard had a good handful of trees, each unique and well loved, and was backed by a small forest. The Three Tree, however, sat much closer to the front, far from the occasional nighttime noise of local crowds at a baseball field a couple blocks away.

One had to walk across the parking lot and into the yard to see the Three Tree, but once discovered, it was memorable due to its three trunks that diverged just a couple feet up from the ground. Ancient and strong, the oak would have been a good climbing tree if it had any lower lying branches, which it did not.

The Three Tree witnessed many adventures from us church kids and was in the general vicinity of the Goliath beetle we once found during a picnic.

Along with the White Oak, the Three Tree bordered the small field on its right; the ramp lined the field’s front while the church’s side garden and basement door sealed the left, the sidewalk from that door heading back towards the house and the Three Tree in completion of the rectangular plot of grass.

In this field, my best friend Annabelle and I played Frank and Joe from the Hardy Boys and foraged for nuts when pretending to be Natives, whose cultures and lifestyles I now recognize we knew nothing about.

(Our state’s name itself, Connecticut, is a mispronunciation of the Algonquian word regarding the river that runs through it, and many places in the state and region hearken back to European colonization and the brash overtaking and erasure of Native cultures there.)

Familiar with its history and its present, the Three Tree looked upon us in kind amusement, a silent but wise presence, friendly as we passed by and game for our attempts at climbing.

We were childish, and it was happy. The Three Tree was childish itself, though not spry like us anymore. Age had made it firm but had not worn down its spirit.

Its three arms opened to the blue sky filled with cumulus puffballs, ready to receive either a child or a thunderstorm and ready to protect its area with its hearty leaves that stayed green through the winter and turned brown and fell frustratingly atop fresh ground each spring.

The church property was neglected once we moved out of state, and the Three Tree’s life cut short with some of its companions years before that, but the memory of this unique red oak, which was at once playful and firm, lives on.


Note:

I am still working on images for this series. Please bear with me and engage your imagination until (and even after) I draw replicas of the dear trees I am describing. I will add them to their respective posts when ready. Thank you.

PC: KSB

Introduction to Memoirs of the Trees, a new blog series

I grew up in New England, surrounded by forests. Trees dwelt in my yard, encompassed our vehicle as we drove around town, sat watch at Sleeping Giant where we hiked regularly, and huddled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains where we traveled some summers.

Apple trees lay below us on Blue Hills Road on the way from Cheshire to North Haven. Above me, below me, and around me in Connecticut were oaks, beeches, maples, and pines of earth brown, spotted yellow, vibrant maroon, and green of all shades. No other region of the U.S. can compare to the diversity of foliage in New England.

Perhaps you have heard of Ents. If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you know of their wisdom and the histories that lie deep within their hearts in the Fangorn Forest.

In this blog series, Memoirs of the Trees, I would like to share the histories of specific trees whose lives have crossed mine. In this way, I will honor the trees that have impacted my life.

Perhaps the tree will share a particular moment in its life, or perhaps it will describe a stretch of years. Spun from my reality, these stories will include creative elements stretching back into history, imagined occurrences as well as actual connections had with humans.

Enjoy this blog series and take some time to honor the land that has shaped you. Next week will begin the first of many stories regarding trees that I hold dear. Thank you.

Surprise Thanksgiving trip through New England: a photo account

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At 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, I left my house in Wheaton. At 6 a.m., I flew from Chicago O’Hare to New England for a surprise trip home.

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Besides my parents, my cousin Jonathan was the only one outside of Wheaton who knew I had no way home. I’d tried all semester to find a ride to CT for Thanksgiving, but everyone from CT was either flying back or staying around campus. A week before break, I still had no way home. Because I couldn’t afford a plane ticket, Jonathan let many of my other cousins, aunts and uncles know so they could chip in to buy me one. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without you,” he told me when I thanked him. I told my dad about God’s provision before another cousin asked me to keep it a surprise, but my mom and sister had no idea I was going to Thanksgiving with them.

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My Aunt Carol and cousin Becky picked me up from the Providence airport, and we visited a park in Rhode Island that Wednesday. Here I pretended to be queen of the castle.

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Becky and I ran up hills and climbed trees. I loved seeing hills, rock faces, and tunnels of trees again! New England is beautiful–especially Connecticut! 😉

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Rhode Island has a unique beauty, though. It’s quaint, with lots of little streets. We had fun adventuring around the city (a.k.a. being lost on the way to the park).

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Then I visited a tropical island for a minute…I mean, we stopped at a smoothie place in Massachusetts since I hadn’t eaten. Next we continued on to my aunt’s house in New Bedford, MA, where I played with a three year old the family nannies, ate lunch, and napped for eight straight hours. (Oops. I had meant to play family games, but apparently two hours of sleep before a red eye flight exhausts a girl.) I woke up for a couple hours to eat dinner at 10:30 p.m. and wrap presents, and then I slept for another six or seven hours until the morning!

 

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We proceeded on to Connecticut, my beautiful old home, for the family picnic in Cochester.

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At the family picnic, I met some soon-to-be relatives, baby London and cousin Matt’s fiance N’Gella. I also surprised mom by being there. It took forever to get her attention, but she finally turned around and saw me. Becky Bailey captured her initial reaction on camera. Mom’s words upon seeing me? “Oh now that’s not even fair.” (She didn’t like that I had deceived her.)

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But mom was happy I was there!

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*mom hugs*

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My sister Hannah was excited, too. She exclaimed, “WHAT?!” and then did a jig.

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While my dad made mashed potatoes for most of the 52 people in attendance, I mashed a small bowl for the dairy free among us.

Bennett family photo Thanksgiving 2015

After eating, we played football. I made a touchdown at the start of the first game! We ended up losing that game, but my team was 2-1 in the end. Typically those who play football shovel coal afterwards since that’s how Aunt Penni and Uncle Rick heat their house for the winter, but they had already done that, so we went straight to the pie eating, conversing and hymn singing. I spent 10 hours total at their house this Thanksgiving Day!

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On the way to the house in which I was staying overnight, my subconscious dream came true: we went through Hubbard Park and saw the lights!! I hadn’t seen them for two or three years!

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The lit globe has always been my favorite.

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On Friday morning I went to Cheshire Coffee with my friend Jared. It was SO good to catch up with him!! He was the only friend I’d told about my visit since I thought I wouldn’t have time to see anybody. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to visit my old towns, Cheshire and North Haven, but both expectations were surpassed: we drove through both towns, and since Jared had to work at 9:30 a.m., I had the rest of the day to see other people. First I had the pleasure of visiting my old hangout, Music Center of North Haven. I even saw Mark, Mary and Donna Minotti!

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Then, since I was free until 2:30 p.m., Daddy Vecchio picked me up from Music Center and brought me to East Haven, where I saw the whole family–including cousin RiRi. Tyler was even home from Niger, which was a surprise to me!

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I loved being back with my second family, the Vecchios! We’ve all grown, but some things definitely stayed the same. 😉

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Mia and I played our original song, “I Like Cats,” as well as “Safe and Sound,” “Oceans ” and others on guitar, just like we used to do every weekend in high school. Although I hadn’t seen nor sung with her since May 2014, we remembered our harmonies! Then Mama and I dropped her off at work because she’s an adult now! (Side note: I feel so old when I say how much time has passed since I saw my old friends and family!)

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Silas practiced blowing bubbles–he just learned on Tuesday–and Mama fed me. She and I talked with her for an hour or so. I can’t express how happy I am to have seen them! Then several other cousins tag-teamed to get me back to the Providence airport that Friday night, and by 10p.m. I had landed in Chicago again. What a beautiful whirlwind of a break!

 

 

God Gave Me a Mountain

Walking towards my house in the flat state of Illinois this evening, I thought I saw a mountain peaking over the trees. Struck by the beauty, I halted. I then realized it was merely a purple-grey cloud, but I remained still, gazing forward and pretending that it was a snow capped peak in Nepal stretching away, way, way into the sky.

Continuing onward, I thanked God for that beautiful illusion.

Every Monday for the past three weeks, it has rained…typically on me. First I had to walk to work through a flash flood. I arrived at the library soaked up to my thighs from the rain and puddles. Last week I escaped the rain in time, but this week I chose to walk umbrella-less through a sun shower. It was glorious.

At least half the days this summer have been rainy. The earth and streets smell fresh, and because my work is indoors, I am mostly dry. I find joy in the after-effects, however—the dripping grass squishing between my bare toes, muddy puddles along the roadside.

The downside of having so much rain and persistent puddles is that mosquitoes are finally breeding. Until last Sunday, only one insect had bitten me during the entire summer. Then I got three expansive spider bites that thankfully dried out by the time I got re-bitten yesterday on my hand and knee.

I still love the puddles, though.

I love rain and puddles and trees and mountains. They’re majestic, and they remind me of my old home and places I’d like to go such as the Adirondack Mountains, Kenya or Montana.

For living in what I call the “flatlands,” I live in a pretty beautiful place. Flat, open land was never my ideal, but I’ve learned to find beauty in the wide fields, straight roads and of course the railroad tracks. Still, I’m blessed to live on what is probably the most shaded street in Wheaton. I’m blessed to live in a house that has trees out front and lining the side. It feels enclosed.

When we lived in Connecticut, my mom always disliked Hartford Turnpike because the street was walled in by a tunnel of trees. She preferred the winding beauty of Upper State Street, with its more sunny view, the elementary school and the pond where I once caught a fish with a french fry. Dad preferred the direct route of Hartford Turnpike. My parents would race each other home, testing which road was the shortest, but it honestly depended on the traffic lights. I’d drive both roads depending on my preference that day, but I loved being surrounded by trees and rock faces on the interstate and highways in Connecticut.

I haven’t seen any rock faces in Illinois yet, but today God gave me a mountain. And he took away my breath.

Introduction, Part 2: Home

For seventeen years I was socialized in Connecticut, a small state in New England. More specifically, I lived twenty minutes from Yale University. That changed two months ago when my family moved to North Carolina. Although I know they followed God there and that He is already doing awesome things down there, the move shook my understanding of home.

The concept of home has been a major struggle and theme for me this past semester, and I’ve come to realize that my real home is not here on earth. My home is not in Connecticut, although that’s where I say I’m “from;” it is not in North Carolina with my family; it is not even at Wheaton, where I feel incredibly comfortable. These realizations sadden me because I have no place to which I can cling. At the same time, the lack of an earthly home is beautiful, for my home is with Jesus in His Coming Kingdom.

I eagerly await the day when I will see my God face-to-face. Until that day, I will strive to exalt Him on earth. The news about what Jesus has done for us is the most important thing for which we can live on this earth, and I will gladly share the hope I have in Jesus with any blog readers who are curious to learn more. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death”(Philippians 1:20).